Best Ways to Clean Grill and BBQ

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It sounds like it’s almost that time of year to get yourself outside to partake in humanities oldest form of cooking, grilling over a fire with people eagerly awaiting your meal. Many folks have a grill at their place, and often that last party you had is still visible on the grate of your grill outside. Today’s article will discuss the best ways to clean up that grill, and how to keep it clean afterwards! First off, a good cleaning of the exterior is always a good idea, to be honest, a blast with the hose or even better a pressure washer and maybe some soap will be just fine. If you don’t have a pressure washer, you can go to a local DIY car wash and use their sprayer instead. If your grill exterior is really dirty you can take a nylon brush and scrub the outside, then rinse again, but the inside is what you’re really concerned about, aren’t you? Don’t worry about cooking on a grill that is slightly dirty. Grills up to temperature are more than hot enough to kill bacteria, and as long as the grates where you’re cooking the food are clean, you shouldn’t have any real problems just using the grill. However, the people you’re cooking for might want you to have a cleaner grill than not and maintaining your cooking equipment is paramount to making it last a long time and providing consistent results.

All of the following steps can be used whether you have a gas grill or a charcoal grill, although the gas grill might be easier to get up to temperature quickly for cleaning purposes. Be sure to wear appropriate eye and hand wear when handling chemicals and absolutely try not breathing any fumes coming off the grill when heating it up after using cleaning fluids.

  1. Step one is to lose the grease pan. Replacement grease pans are available wherever Barbecue grills are sold and are worth their weight in gold (or at least aluminum). Don’t forget to make sure that the grease is cooled off before you throw it away so it doesn’t melt your trash can, and DEFINITELY don’t pour it down your sink drain, you will regret that, as it will harden into a blockage that you’ll need a plumber to fix
  2. We want to use the minimum of elbow grease and the maximum amount of natural chemical reactions, so take the grates and soak them in a garbage bag (the thickest kind you can get and sealed with duct tape) with white vinegar covering the grates. Leave this overnight to allow the vinegar to clean up the grates as much as possible. Grab some rubber gloves (so you don’t get filthy) and then rinse the grates off and clean them with a crumpled ball of aluminum foil. Repeat this process again if there is still a good amount of residue on the grates. You can also use white vinegar to clean the bottom of the grill but will have to allow the vinegar to soak for a while for the reactions to take place.
    1. If you have stainless steel or enamel coated grates, and are absolutely sure of this fact, you can use this same method but use ammonia instead. If you use this on mild steel however, you’re going to have a bad time.
    2. If this is your chosen method, but you aren’t having any luck with white vinegar, you can in some cases turn to BBQ grill cleaning solution, or oven cleaner. However, this is a VERY caustic chemical and you should take precautions when handling this. Gloves, protective eyewear and a respirator should be used, with an eye protection at an absolute minimum.
  3. Inspect the grill body/exterior for rust, holes, bubbles in the paint and other damage as this could become a bigger issue when the grill is up to temperature. If any hardware is loose/rusted out, replace that as well, it’s a really big problem when a hot grill comes apart and throws glowing coals everywhere as well as your food; to say nothing of a gas grill coming undone. Putting some never seize grease on your bolts could be a good way to keep things from sticking together, and this is one of the few times to use WD40 properly (water displacement formula 40) as this will keep your bolts/hardware from rusting.
  4. If you happen to have some bigger power tools, an angle grinder and a cupped wire brush could make VERY fast work of cleaning the grates. This is however a tradesman’s tool more than a normal household one, and chances are low that you have one sitting around. If you found the proper brush, you could also use a power drill perhaps. Here is a link to a good option for a power drill brush.
  5. Place a layer of aluminum foil on the grate and start the grill. Keep it at the maximum temperature you can hold for at least 10 minutes and let it burn off all the other residue.
    1. If you have a cast iron pan that needs to be seasoned, this is a great time to do that. Get some good oil for your pan, wipe it in there and place it in the grill
  6. Using a BBQ grill brush, clean off any last pieces of residue from the grates. Make sure that you buy a NON WIRE BRISTLE brush, this is a good example. These are not your grandfather’s grill brush; there are more than 100 cases every year where the old bristles will break off onto the grill and get lodged in the meat. In that case you have a potential for you or your loved ones to ingest a small piece of wire that can require surgery to remove. Here is a link to the consumer reports article on this problem.
  7. Clean off the inside of the grill using the scrapers/brush as well, this hopefully will have been taken care of with the initial washing, but you may need to get right in there and clean out all of the carbonized grease in there as well. This won’t have the same effect as the stuff on your grates, but it not only looks bad and could be a fire hazard, it’s also more than likely not good for the flavor of your food. If you time it correctly, while your grates are soaking or roasting in the oven, you can quickly clean out the carbonized grease in the lower part of the grill and be ready to go once the grates are done. You can use a shop vac to clean this out easily and even leave it running/in the grill while you scrape the “shmoo” off to make cleanup even easier.

Another option for someone even less inclined to physical labor is to place the grill grates in the oven and run a cleaning cycle. The grates should fit easily into your oven, clean off the largest pieces so you don’t have to deal with them in the oven and place the oven on the clean cycle. This will exceed 900*F and anything on the grates will turn to ash. You should still give them a quick rinse and scrub after the cleaning cycle just as a good measure, but for some folks this will be the absolute easiest way to clean the grates themselves, however it will again take at least all day to accomplish this and not everyone has access to a self-cleaning oven.

If you have any scratches/faded paint on your grill, you can also remedy that, as it will at least make your grilling experience LOOK much more professional. Any old paint will not do however, as they do make paint specifically for high heat. This can be found at any hardware store or auto parts store; it’s sold as BBQ grill paint or high heat paint and comes in several colors that will more than likely match your grill. If your grill happens to be stainless steel, you can purchase stainless steel cleaning materials at hardware or home good stores as well. Scuff the surfaces to be painted with at least 400-600 grit sandpaper, clean them thoroughly with soap and water and allow them to dry. Then, wipe with denatured alcohol or acetone to remove any grease, allow to dry again and then paint with the high temperature paint. If you can’t exactly match your paint, you may have to do the whole grill, and the previous steps should be followed, just all over the grill. Make sure that you remove all the grease however from the outside, as any trapped on the surface will make your new shiny paint job bubble and fail.

As in most cases, maintaining the grill is much easier than doing a big cleaning. Here are a few steps to keeping your grill maintained throughout the year. Grill maintenance is easy to read about and discuss, but usually much harder and less enticing with a beer in your hand and hot food waiting for you to eat. Try and place all the tools right near the grill so you can quickly do it before your food gets cold, or the grill cools down, whichever comes first.

  1. Always clean the grill right after use while the grates are still very hot. Using your new fancy grill brush will make this an easy thing to do, and since the grates are hot, the food will more than likely come right off, which is the goal.
  2. Before cooking, if you happen to be cooking with onions or citrus fruits and have extra, take a large section of the onion/fruit and rub it all over the grates, they do a great job of cutting the grease left on the grates and can make your initial cooking much cleaner.
  3. Oil the grate right before cooking, just like you would any pan. Take a paper towel and dip it in your favorite cooking oil and wipe it on the grate using a BBQ glove or tongs. This will develop a coating like a cast iron skillet and will protect the steel from rusting as well as provide some oil so that the food doesn’t initially stick.
  4. If your grilling grates are enameled porcelain you might want to check out a wood grate brush. They are essentially a piece of wood with grooves cut into one end of it that can scrape grates without stripping off any coatings on them. Use this every time to protect your ceramic coatings from being scratched off or worn away. The ceramic coatings are designed to provide a nonstick surface that is easier to maintain than seasoning.
  5. You can also use a mesh scouring pad to clean the grate. Make sure that the pads have a handle on them so you don’t get burned, but if you choose this method of maintaining the grill, submerging the mesh scour pads in water prior to cleaning the grill, provides the additional power of steam which is not a trivial power!
  6. If you happen to want to impress your friends and have money to blow on wild grill accessories however, you could invest in a robotic grill cleaner. All you have to do once you’re done, is drop this thing under the lid of the grill and let it do the work for you! This versatile bot can be placed on the grill grate whether it is hot or cold, and the timer is set and starts with the push of a button – just turn it on, close the grill lid. The timer turns off automatically and an alarm sounds when the grill is clean. To clean the bot, remove the three brushes and just toss them in the dishwasher. The grill bot is probably not the best option for cleaning a grill that has not been maintained for a while, but once you’re done grilling, setting this thing one the grates while you eat will most likely make your future job of cleaning up much easier. If you grill often, this thing might just pay for itself while you drink a beer and relax; some might say that’s priceless.

If your grill grates happen to be WAY past the point of no return and are rusted, pitted or some combo of those two, you can salvage them, it’s just not as easy and may require external sources. One method is to sand blast your grill grates. Many businesses employ sand blasters (machine shops, car shops, etc.), and some would be happy to throw your grate in the blaster for some beer money, it won’t take more than a few minutes and your grates will absolutely be clean. If you don’t have access to a nice sandblaster, you can also use a wire wheel and abrasive pad instead of just a wire cup brush. Combine that with a bit of elbow grease and you can absolutely get surface rush and some pitting off of the grates. At some point however, you may have to just throw in the towel and replace the grates. Next time you will more than likely take better care of the grates and investing in a nice set isn’t all that bad, especially when you know what NOT to do. Remember if you sand blast or wire wheel the grates or the inside of the grill, you will need to protect them against rust. So, seasoning/oiling your grates will need to be done immediately, and painting of any non-grate surfaces should also be done as soon as possible as well. Seasoning of the grates should be done just like any cast iron, basically heat up the grill as if you were going to cook on it, wipe it down with oil/grease/fat and let it cool down naturally. Do this a few times and you will have a good layer of seasoning on your grates to prevent rust, and as an added benefit, you will have a mostly nonstick cooking surface in the future!

At the end of the grilling season, wash the grate off with mild soap and spritz it with some sort of cooking oil. Store the grate inside if you can prevent rust pitting and that will make next years revival much easier as well. If you must store it outside, keeping it out of the rain/snow will help quite a bit as well as making sure that there are no spaces for critters to come make a home in your grill.

Grilling foods is a fun experience that is also a great way to prepare a lot of food for people quickly. Even though this is an outside activity, that doesn’t mean that your equipment has to be dirty and unsightly. Hopefully this article has provided you with the tips and tricks you need to keep your grill clean, happy grilling!